The unbridled joy of putting in an early shift

Picture the scene: you're in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, stood atop a mountain on a clear winter’s day. The sky, powder blue, is glowing. Snow glistens off every surface. The ground beneath your feet slopes away from your spot on earth in every direction, before rising again to form a prickly spine of mountains that stretch as far as the eye can see.

No, I haven’t lost the plot. Nor have I become a travel agent. Though after months of lockdown, perhaps the idea of a holiday appeals!

I want to share a thought with you about work and the early hours of the day.

No, not, the early shifts you put in because you think your boss will be livid if you don't. Nor the early starts because you want to plug away at all of the mind-numbing to-dos which, when you own a business, are never done.

I'm talking about the hours that are perfect for deep thinking, creative work and inspired problem-solving. The hours when the world at large still slumbers, and the other humans who are awake are only just getting their coffee on the brew. Early mornings aren't always easy. They are worth it.

I'll explain why early starts are a great thing for business owners and creatives.

First, let me take you back to that mountain top...

Get to work early, see the world from a different perspective

We’ve rewound a few hours, to just before daybreak…

The clear sky is inky blue, the stars sharp pinpricks. The mountains, their outline defined and every detailed rock face visible in the daylight, are changed completely. The detail is obliterated; they simply rise like hulking masses out of the earth. The air is cold, yet crisp. Crisper than any bottle of Coors could ever hope to be, despite what their advertisements and Jean Claude van Damme might have you believe.

This was my reality for six glorious months in the winter 2012-2013. I was a ski lift operator at a resort – a liftie. And boy did I come to love early mornings.

In the deepest depths of winter I'd be on the mountain long before the sun rose. It was glorious.

The resort was deserted. The crunch underfoot as my colleagues and I sauntered, Cowboy-like in our ski boots, across the freshly groomed snow was music to the ears. The smooth chug of the gondola that rose higher and higher every second, revealed a horizon that opened up like Aladdin’s cave. Treasures unimaginable revealed themselves.

The treeline gave way to an expanse of bride-white snow, craggy cliffs and rocky outcrops. On clear days, the sun rose in full view, eking out from behind the mountain tops. Taking his time. Basking in his own glory. On cloudy days, the mood was closer, more reflective. Mother Nature reminding you that you're simply a visitor; this is her stomping ground and you had better thank your lucky stars that you're allowed to come and play.

The best days were the days when there had been a dumping of fresh snow. The weather gods had bestowed upon us a gift as we skied down to our posts, the chance to cut our own tracks through the fresh snow before anyone else.

So, what's the point of all this?

The solitude. The peace. The clarity.

With nobody around, the first order of the day was sheer, unadulterated joy. Pleasure in abundance. If you've never experienced the beauty of skiing on fresh powder, we'll have a drink some time and I'll try to describe the feeling.

While that might all sound rather frivolous, I truly believe it's critical. Waking up and thinking, ‘Gordon Bennett, I love what I do’, is a privilege in its own right. In the calm emptiness of the resort the prep for the day would go unhindered. Myself and my colleagues would work through our procedures, getting the lift ready to roll for the incoming skiers.

Doing those basic things meant a good set up for the rest of the day. It allowed us to focus, do what we needed to do so our customers would have a great time. So they could, hopefully, take even a minuscule fraction of the pleasure from our work, that we took in doing it.

Start early, do more and better work

When you get to work early, you get the best slice of the day. Like the skier who’s first in line at the lift to hunt out the best snow. Okay, you’re not a pleasure-seeker. You're getting paid, or you’re paying yourself, to be at work. Yet the calm that envelops that time of day is priceless. Especially if you need to think.

The light.

The birds.

The serenity.

It doesn’t matter if you’re holed up in your home office (formerly known as the kitchen table), or cruising down a mountain with your mates. Possibility dangles tantalisingly in front of you as the hours stretch endlessly ahead. The opportunity to carve your own tracks through the virgin snow beckons with an urgency that is lost as the sun climbs higher.

The glory that unfolds in those early hours is unbeatable.

Early eats productivity for breakfast

The glory isn’t in the passive picturesqueness of the scene. The glory – as with anything worth pursuing in life – is in the act of doing.

It's selfish really.

You know, when you start your day before the world wakes up, that you won't be disturbed. The phone won't ring. The emails languishing in your inbox won't demand a reply. Space and time appear to open up. The clock seems to tick at the pace nature intended, not faster than an elephant disappearing into quicksand.

And (though adolescent Laura would probably faint at the thought) I'll admit, I am one of the early-to-work brigade. I love it. It’s when I do my best work. Yeah, a high-pressure deadline can light a fire under my creative rump. But in terms of consistency (and, let’s face it, when you’re running a business, that’s a better ally than firefighting), it’s when I deliver more and better work.  My thought is sharpest. And the entire day takes on a flow that simply doesn't exist if I don't find myself at my desk by seven-thirty.

Those later starts really rankle. Everything goes to pot. I do zero to little deep or creative work. The day is – inevitably – spent in menial tasks and admin. Even if I intend to do some big thinking, somehow, it never quite comes together on those days when I start later. The minutes slip by and no matter what I do, I'm constantly chasing; the day runs away and it's impossible to catch up.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Who's up with the lark? You are!

What happens if you begin the day a smidge earlier? You don't suddenly have to become Rocky Balboa. There's no harsh training regime in place. Try 20 minutes, 30 minutes.  Might it give you a slightly different perspective?

There's something about making a small sacrifice, some kind of commitment to yourself and your business, that makes the early starts so rewarding. Again, my mind drifts back to the skier who set his alarm, even though his friends decided to stay in bed, and is rewarded with the best skiing. Perhaps it's simply the smug satisfaction that you've done the heaviest mental lifting, or turned out your most creative work, before nine o'clock. I haven't quite figured out what that X factor is yet. Another post, perhaps.

Early not doable?

Give me a call. I'm more than happy to get going on whatever you need writing at that time of day.

And I'm intrigued. What is your morning routine? Does the thought of doing work early fill you with dread or delight? Comments are below, you’re very welcome to share your take.

And if you know someone who's part of the Early Starters Club, why not share this post? I'm fascinated to hear what other people get up to in their early mornings.


Get up early, ski hard, and remember…

Your words matter,


Share Your Words Matter

The Weekly Writing Reflection

If you’re new here, welcome!

Each week I share a quote that I’ve found inspiring. The idea is to create space for you to do some active reflection through writing. Nothing demanding, simply jot down a few thoughts about your week. There’s no need to share, though if you’d like to, I’d be delighted to read your writing. Or, you can simply reflect on how your week has been.

Your quote, to find a moment of pause this week, is:

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

- Edward Abbey

And your writing prompt, should you wish to use one:

  • My mountain is …….. and I climb it by……..

And finally…

I’ll leave you with a view of the mountains. I hope this clarity and serenity carry with you into your day, the weekend, and to a stunning week.